“We’re Not Fixed, We’re Fluent”

Global Diplomacy LabMembers of the Global Diplomacy Lab.
Angel Burgos

Diplomacy is changing radically. It is no longer the strict purview of governments and traditional institutions. Everybody can be an ambassador for their country. The Global Diplomacy Lab promotes this development with the aid of bold thinkers.

Vivian Valencia, a university researcher from the United States, is one of them.

“Coming from the academic world, I would love to be able to communicate like a politician,” says Vivian Valencia, thinking above all of gifted speakers such as former U.S. President Barack Obama. “How do I manage to capture the attention of diverse audiences and convey my message effectively?”

It is the last day of the Global Diplomacy Lab in Buenos Aires, and Valencia participates in one of the workshops where GDL members can present a project that is still looking for allies and supporters – or share a skill or expertise of which other members can benefit.


Global Diplomacy Lab

The Global Diplomacy Lab (GDL) brings together academics, artists, journalists, entrepreneurs, and diplomats from all over the world. Together they reflect on what the foreign policy of the future should look like. The 6th Global Diplomacy Lab took place in Buenos Aires, Argentina. In this series, we present four members of the Lab. The GDL is an initiative of the Federal Foreign Office, the BMW Foundation Herbert Quandt, Stiftung Mercator, and the Robert Bosch Foundation.

The workshop selected by Vivian Valencia is entitled “Use Your Voice! How to Give a Convincing Speech” and is offered by Theresa Carrington, a social entrepreneur and keynote speaker from the United States. Carrington shows the participants how they should stand – where to put your hands and feet? – and gives tips: Paint rhetorical pictures and never use twenty words if ten words are enough! Valencia will be able to use this in a very practical way, for the 34-year-old postdoctoral research fellow also teaches student seminars at the University of Michigan.

The question of how to build a functioning dialogue also matters to her in a larger context: “As researchers, we not only have to continually engage with other academics and students but also with politics and society.”

“If you want to find solutions today, it is necessary to hold dialogues that include individuals from different disciplines, viewpoints, sectors, and parts of society,” Valencia says, adding that, unfortunately, it is often not working. “It is rare to have a discourse that is not paralyzed but energized by diversity. This is what I like about the Global Diplomacy Lab, no matter what practical topic it focuses on. Here, I get to experiment and try new formats for what a constructive and productive dialogue can look like.”

"If you want to find solutions today, it is necessary to hold dialogues that include individuals from different disciplines, viewpoints, sectors, and parts of society."
Vivian Valencia

Valencia grew up in Mexico City and came to the United States with her family when she was 12 years old. She studied biology and health studies; for her dissertation, she temporarily returned to Mexico to live with small farmers in remote areas. There, she got to know the problems they face, caught between the ideal of sustainable agriculture and the necessity of making ends meet.

While also advising the Mexican government, she received an invitation to a professional training at the German Development Institute (DIE) in Bonn. Since then, she has been active in foreign policy circles and has participated in workshops on so-called Science Diplomacy – that is, international scientific collaborations.

In addition, the Global Diplomacy Lab has become a fixture in her life; a five-time participant, she currently even serves as a member of the Advisory Council, a four-member elected body that conceives, plans, and moderates the Labs.

Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina – and the location of the 6th Global Diplomacy Lab

Therefore, on this last day in Buenos Aires, she also reflects about the Lab more generally. “During the last days, we had a lot of discussions about where the Lab was going. Do we want to move towards a model that is more concerned with producing practical outcomes? The Open Situation Room has already moved in this direction, by looking for solutions that can actually be applied by different actors and institutions.

But the expectation to function as a source of practical solutions rather than an engine of innovation and collective creation also raises concerns that the lab could lose some of its free character, which has allowed us to experiment with formats and methodologies.”

"For me, the most important thing to change is the notion that the Lab is not an event; it’s a platform."

Vivian Valencia

What does she personally think about this issue? “I am in favor of achieving a balance between the two. I want us to deliver practical results, but I also want us to remain independent enough to play around and develop things like a TV series, which was another idea that emerged in the Open Situation Room.”

After the workshops, all participants gather for the final session of the 6th Global Diplomacy Lab: “Keep and Change.” They write down what they liked and what should be done differently in the next Lab and pin their colored post-it notes to the wall.

What would Valencia change? “For me, the most important thing to change is the notion that the Lab is not an event; it’s a platform,” she says. “It’s not just semi-annual meetings but a platform in which members propose activities all year round to which other members can contribute. There are co-creation workshops, dialogues, and discussions with high-level government officials, webinars, and so on. There is an expert database where members looking for other members with a special kind of expertise to implement ideas can find each other.”

Lively exchange of information at the 6th Global Diplomacy Lab in Buenos Aires Angel Burgos

And what should remain the same? “The fact that we are so open and members-driven. GDL by definition is without definition. It’s a laboratory. Therefore, we are constantly experimenting with new things and engaging in self-reflection on what worked and what could be improved. I think this is our big advantage. We’re not fixed, we’re fluent.”

Previously in our Global Diplomacy Lab series: Imram Simmins, a diplomat from South Africa, and Dilshad Muhammad, a political scientist from Syria.

Coming up next: Trinidad Saona, a diplomat from Chile, who had doubts about her job.


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